A St. Clair County circuit judge’s ruling in a lawsuit could determine the financial health of Democratic-leaning labor unions that represent government workers.
Judge Chris Kolker issued the ruling Wednesday, vacating Gov. Bruce Rauner’s executive order to halt collection of union fees for nonunion members who work in state jobs but benefit from collective bargaining.
Kolker found that Rauner’s executive order violated state law, collective bargaining agreements and the Illinois Constitution. Kolker ruled that the governor was trying “to rewrite 26 collective bargaining agreements. This is expressly prohibited by state law.”
Kolker issued the order in a suit filed in St. Clair County by the Illinois AFL-CIO and AFSCME 31 against Rauner.
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But the whole thing may be moot, pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in another case.
That second case involves Mark Janus, a state employee who says Illinois law violates his free speech rights by requiring him to pay fees subsidizing a union he doesn’t support, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. About half the states have similar laws covering so-called “fair share” fees that cover bargaining costs for nonmembers.
Janus is seeking to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that said public workers who refuse to join a union can still be required to pay for bargaining costs, as long as the fees don’t go toward political purposes. The arrangement was supposed to prevent nonmembers from “free riding,” since the union has a legal duty to represent all workers.
Patty Schuh, a Rauner spokeswoman, said the governor had issued the executive order in the St. Clair County case “to protect the First Amendment rights of government workers and initiated what became the Janus vs. AFSCME case. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Janus case because of the First Amendment rights at stake. We look forward to the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Schuh added, “The governor supports the freedom for all government workers to choose what political speech to support and whether or not to take money out of their paychecks to pay dues to a union.”
The governor supports the freedom for all government workers to choose what political speech to support and whether or not to take money out of their paychecks to pay dues to a union.
Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner
Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said: “Public service workers know that Bruce Rauner is fiercely hostile to working people, wants to take away their freedom to join together in strong unions, and is determined to drive down their wages. That was the motivation for his illegal executive order and for the suit he initiated that’s now before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
A “fair share” payment is made by employees who opt out of the union. Because workers who choose not to belong to a union still benefit from collective bargaining, workers are charged a “fair share” or a percentage of union dues to the union.
An earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that “fair share” fees paid to unions could not be used for lobbying, litigation expenses not related to collective bargaining, public relations efforts or to secure public funds.
With the addition of conservative Justice Neal Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, the “fair share” fees might be coming to an end, but Lindall said the union is trying to educate workers.
“Members of AFSCME and all public service unions are organizing to make sure their co-workers and their communities understand Rauner’s scheme to rig the system, silence working people and take more power and control for himself,” Lindall wrote in an email.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Janus case on Feb. 26.